If your child is receiving a variety of therapies the acronyms can really start to add up. ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, is particularly notorious for having its own set of letters and terms. This is a brief guide to making sense of the alphabet soup related to ABA.

ABCs of Behavior: In this acronym, the A stands for ‘antecedent,’ which is just a fancy word for what happened immediately before a behavior. The B stands for ‘behavior’ and the C stands for ‘consequence.’ In this context, consequence refers to what happened immediately after the behavior. The science of behavior analysis refers to this chain: antecedent, behavior, and consequence as a three-term contingency. Looking at this chain helps your BCBA to identify patterns in behavior that indicate why it may be occurring and/or why it may occur again in the future.

BCBA or BCBA-D: Behavior analysts (and related designations) are certified by an international organization called the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. The designation BCBA stands for Board Certified Behavior Analyst. BCBAs have graduate degrees in psychology, applied behavior analysis, or special education and must complete lengthy, supervised fieldwork placements. They are also required to pass a rigorous exam and to accumulate continuing education credits as active practitioners. A BCBA-D is a doctoral level practitioner. Typically, BCBAs complete assessments, develop treatment and skill programs, and supervise the implementation of these programs.

BCaBA: The little ‘a’ means ‘assistant.’ BCaBAs are bachelor level practitioners who have obtained an undergraduate degree that included a required set of courses. BCaBAs must also complete supervised fieldwork and pass an exam to obtain certification. BCaBAs require ongoing supervision from BCBAs to maintain their credential. These clinicians provide direct services, and with additional training can supervise RBTs.

RBT: An RBT is a Registered Behavior Technician. RBTs most often provide the direct one on one ABA services and are supervised by a BCBA or BCaBA. RBTs are not required to have a post-secondary degree, but they must have a high school diploma or equivalent, complete 40 hours of training, undergo a competency assessment, and pass an exam.

DTT: DTT is Discrete Trial Training. A discrete trial is a single opportunity to emit a specific response. If your child is receiving DTT that means he or she is being given lots and lots of opportunities to respond to skill acquisition trials with praise and reinforcement for correct responses. DTT does not mean your child is forced to sit at a table or rigidly made to use unnatural responses.

Elopement: Elopement is wandering, leaving an area unsupervised, or running away from caregivers.

FBA: An FBA is a Functional Behavior Assessment. FBAs must always be conducted before an intervention plan is designed or implemented. The FBA is what gives your BCBA the information she needs to create an individualized plan to meet your child’s specific needs.

Generalization: This refers to the ability to demonstrate a learned skill in new settings, with new people, and in different situations. Generalization must be the end goal of any skill acquisition program.

NET or Incidental Teaching: Natural Environment Training or Incidental Teaching is an ABA approach that teaches skills in the settings they need to occur. It also uses naturally occurring activities to teach new skills.

Prompt: A prompt is assistance or a cue to help an individual complete a task correctly. Prompts can be physical like hand-over-hand or elbow touches. They can also come in the form of gestures, placement of materials, pictures, symbols, spoken words, sounds, or modeling a behavior. Most prompts must eventually be phased out based on the level of progress an individual is making to avoid prompt dependency.

Prompt Dependent: Some individuals may become reliant upon assistance from others if prompts are not faded to allow the person to make independent responses. Prompt dependency can also happen when it seems easier or quicker to do something for your child than waiting for them to attempt it independently.

Target Behavior: This is the behavior of interest that has been chosen to be either increased (skill) or decreased (problem behavior).

Transitions: A transition is any change from one activity, location, or physical state to another. Transitions can be particularly difficult for individuals with developmental disabilities.

There are many other odd-sounding terms in ABA; however, your BCBA should always make sure you understand the services he or she is providing and keep the use of confusing jargon and acronyms to a minimum.


Heather Walker, MS, BCBA/LBA
Board Certified Behavior Analyst

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